Who said international football is boring? With competitive international matches far apart, teams understandably lack chemistry and character. And because there’s much more at stake for the participating nations, games tend to be cagey. This edition of the Euros has turned out to be anything but. In case you missed it, here’s what went down in the previous round of fixtures:
Review of the Round of 16
Wales 0-4 Denmark (Dolberg 27, 48, Mæhle 88, Braithwaite 90+4)
In a match-up between last edition’s semi-finalists and Denmark, the latter came out on top. The Welsh started strong and dominated possession in the first half, but it was Yussuf Poulsen’s replacement, Kasper Dolberg who opened the scoring. Carried by a wave of emotion, it was all Denmark in the second half, with the flying wing-back Joakim Mæhle deservedly getting his name on the scoresheet.
Italy 2-1 Austria (Chiesa 95, Pessina 105; Kalajdzic 114)
In what was arguably the first match of the tournament to properly challenge Italy, squad depth proved to be key. Italy had twelve shots on goal in the first half, of which only two were on target. The second half’s output declined to six shots, none of which were on target. Extra-time seemed inevitable, and substitutions were made accordingly, and boy did they make a difference. In fact, this is the first time in Euro history where two substitutes of a team scored in extra time. Another sub, Austria’s Sasa Kalajdzic, scored a flawless header to end Italy’s clean sheet streak.
Netherlands 0-2 Czech Republic (Holeš 68, Schick 80)
This was a result that came out of the blue. Or out of the Oranje, if you will. The Czechs had their tactics on point, disrupting the otherwise fluid Dutch game. The Dutch had 0 shots on target in the game, partly due to the Czech press and isolation of Gini Wijnaldum, the heart of the Netherlands’ attack. The turning point of the game was when Czech goalkeeper Tomás Vaclik stripped the ball of Donyell Malen in a one-on-one situation, and almost immediately after this, Matthijs de Ligt handled the ball on the other end of the pitch to prevent a goal-scoring opportunity. Having gained the numerical advantage, a finely balanced match turned into a well-deserved win for the Czech Republic (and a catastrophe for many fantasy managers).
Belgium 1-0 Portugal (Thorgan Hazard 42)
With the world number one facing the defending champions, it was expected to be a tactical goal-fest. It was just that, minus the goals. The match was controlled and cagey up until Thorgan Hazard’s belter of a goal. Going only by the stats, Belgium had no right to win. Portugal had 23 shots and dominated possession in the second half. But on the field, an experienced Belgium back line broke up most of the Portuguese attacking flow, leaving them no option but to take shots from range.
Croatia 3-5 Spain (Pedri 20-og, Orsic 85, Pasalic 90+2; Sarabia 38, Azpilicueta 57, Ferran Torres 77, Morata 100, Oyarzabal 103)
If “own-goal” was a rightful player, they would’ve equalized Michel Platini’s record for most goals in a single tournament at 9. The first event of the match was a backpass from Pedri to his goalkeeper, which Unai Simon miscontrolled and watched roll into his own net. The goal also gets the feat of being the second-longest scored since 1980, behind only Patrik Schick’s half-line effort against Scotland earlier in this tournament.
Eventually, Spain regained composure, their mojo dominating possession. It all looked like smooth sailing when they were 3-1 up with 13 minutes to go, but the Luka Modric-led Croatia side pushed aggressively in the final minutes, and Mislav Oršić pulled one back following a chaotic scramble in the 85th minute. He went on to assist Mario Pašalić’s header deep in stoppage time to force extra time. The late reversal wasn’t to be though, as Spain’s youth and composure prevailed, Morata finally, and deservedly, getting himself on the scoresheet.
France 3-3 Switzerland (Benzema 57, 59, Pogba 75; Seferovic 15, 81, Gavranovic 90); Switzerland wins on penalties (5-4)
Possibly the biggest upset of all, and a further blow to fantasy managers, this game did not disappoint in what was another roller coaster ride on the day. The world champions were under pressure as one of the favorites to win the trophy, and the Swiss came in with a nothing-to-lose attitude. In what was an immense display of mental strength, the Swiss went from missing a penalty that would’ve taken them 2-0 up to going 3-1 down, yet being firm and not giving up.
They got one back in the 81st minute through Haris Seferovic’s second headed goal of the match. Still keeping cool, Mario Gavranovic leveled by finishing a through ball from Rodriguez which was chalked offside, only to score again in stoppage time. In the penalties-win that followed, the popular opinion is that Mbappe missed his shot, but it was Yann Sommer’s excellent save that deserves the plaudits.
England 2-0 Germany (Sterling 75, Kane 86)
Here were two nations with coaches deploying unpopular tactics, two nations with a long-standing rivalry. England had been unable to beat the Germans at home in the last 55 years. The match was slow and gritty, with both sides focussing entirely on defending and not making mistakes. Towards the final third of the game, the Three Lions were still going strong, whereas the Germans looked spent and out of ideas. The introduction of Jack Grealish further opened up the game; the team had two shots after his coming on, and both landed in the back of the net. With a splendid defensive record, and spoiled for choice in the attacking department, is it coming home?
Sweden 1-2 Ukraine (Forsberg 43; Zinchenko 27, Dovbyk 120+1)
Ukraine squeezed through to the last 16 despite taking just three points in the group stage, partly because Sweden beat Poland to top Group E ahead of Spain. Ukraine came out to prove that was no fluke. Oleksandr Zinchenko, playing in his advanced wing-back position, opened the scoring with a sweet volley. Emil Forsberg was a constant menace to the Ukrainian defense, leveling before the break. The game was finely balanced and proceeded to extra time, when Sweden did a Netherlands to go a man down and subsequently lose control in the game. Zinchenko assisted Artem Dovbyk, who came on for Yarmolenko, in the 121st minute, to send the Swedes packing and complete this breathless round of fixtures.
Preview of the Quarterfinals
Here are the quarterfinal fixtures with expected lineups and my predicted scorelines. Any player on a yellow card will be suspended for one match if he gets booked again here. The yellow card count will be reset to start the semifinals.
Switzerland vs Spain
This is the only match to show us lineups before our transfer deadline. Switzerland got its first win at a knockout tournament since the 1938 FIFA World Cup. Spain, who started off the tournament with two uninspiring draws, has hit a rich vein of form, becoming the first side to score five goals in back-to-back EURO finals games.
Granit Xhaka is suspended, and seven other players are one booking away from a one-match ban. Notably, the confirmed lineups reveal that Jordi Alba will reclaim his place in the starting XI from Jose Gaya.
Switzerland: Sommer; Elvedi, Akanji, Rodriguez; Widmer, Zakaria, Freuler, Zuber; Shaqiri; Embolo, Seferovic
Misses next match if booked: Akanji, Elvedi, Embolo, Gavranović, Mbabu, Rodríguez, Schär
Spain: Simon; Azpilicueta, Pau Torres, Laporte, Alba; Koke, Busquets, Pedri; Sarabia, Morata, Ferran Torres.
Misses next match if booked: Jordi Alba, Busquets, Pau Torres, Rodri
Prediction: 1 - 2
Belgium vs Italy
The heavyweight clash against Portugal was won, but at the cost of injuries to Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard. Both are doubtful for the match and did not participate in training, though de Bruyne might just start. Italy extended its unbeaten streak to 31 matches, a national record, and 4th longest all time. Chiesa is expected to start instead of Berardi. With both teams defending and attacking very similarly, this is undoubtedly the tie of the round.
Belgium: Courtois; Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Meunier, Witsel, Tielemans, T. Hazard; De Bruyne, Lukaku, Carrasco
Doubtful: E. Hazard, De Bruyne
Misses next match if booked: Alderweireld, T. Hazard, Vermaelen
Italy: Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Spinazzola; Barella, Jorginho, Verratti; Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne
Misses next match if booked: Barella, Di Lorenzo, Pessina
Prediction: 2 - 1 (a.e.t.)
Czech Republic vs Denmark
The Czechs played valiantly to beat the Netherlands, and deservedly take their place in the quarterfinals. This adds to their pedigree of finishing as runners-up in 1996 and also reaching the semifinals in 2004. Denmark meanwhile is playing with true inspiration, and it’s hard to tactically stop that. The Red and Whites won the European Championship in 1992, but they have been eliminated in the group stages in 2012 and failed to qualify for the finals in both 2008 and 2016.
Patrick Schick is in the form of his life and can become the joint top scorer with one more strike. As for Denmark, Yussuf Poulsen, Daniel Wass, and Simon Kjaer are all expected to be available for the contest following earlier fitness problems. Poulsen might come off the bench given the form of other attacking options (e.g. Dolberg).
Czech Republic: Vaclík; Coufal, Čelůstka, Kalas, Kadeřábek; Holeš, Souček; Masopust, Barák, Ševčík; Schick
Misses next match if booked: Coufal, Hložek, Masopust
Denmark: Schmeichel; Christensen, Kjær, Vestergaard; Wass, Højbjerg, Delaney, Mæhle; Braithwaite, Dolberg, Damsgaard
Misses next match if booked: Damsgaard, Delaney, Jensen, Wass
Prediction: 2 - 3
Ukraine vs England
This is the furthest Ukraine has ever made it in this competition. Having nothing to lose, they will be under no pressure, which might be a bonus. England is the last side yet to concede. Having a wealth of attacking riches to call on if required, Southgate is going with a defense-first policy, resulting in a balanced team.
Ukraine: Bushchan; Karavaev, Zabarnyi, Kryvtsov, Matviyenko, Zinchenko; Sydorchuk, Stepanenko, Shaparenko; Yarmolenko, Yaremchuk
Misses next match if booked: Dovbyk, Shaparenko, Sydorchuk, Yarmolenko
England: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Henderson, Phillips; Saka, Mount, Sterling; Kane
Misses next match if booked: Foden, Maguire, Phillips, Rice
Prediction: 1 - 3
What last minute transfers are you contemplating? What late news have you heard? Please share in the comments and then hang out with us as we chat about the fantasy game effects of the action as it unfolds!